My emotions, on the occasion they exist, have their own unit of measurement in the manner of Brontes, Austen, and Gaskell. At the bottom of the scale, notched at soulfully dispossessed and tragically nostalgic, is what I call the BBC depression. I take off work, stay up all night, and watch British female-led period dramas until I have to re-enter the world or work my way through it by some other means. The period drama roster expanded over the years as new options came out (Outlander, Poldark, recent Bronte remakes), but for the most part remains the same and waits for me to get sad so that I may escape into its grace and manners. Someone wants to build a mill, someone misheard a rumor, so-and-so glanced sideways at a woman at the ball. Yet, somehow these [mostly] idle characters (no one would accuse Ross Poldark or Jamie Fraser of idleness) with low stakes narratives hold so much weight with me when I’m feeling at my most vulnerable, and I return to them in earnest every time.
Maybe it’s the way they come at feminism by telling stories marked by its absence. Characters acknowledge an understanding of women even when the environment of the story pretends not to. In most tales, the greatest threat to the status quo is a headstrong girl who knows her own mind–a timeless premise. The witty societal commentary both thrills and burdens me, as so much of it still applies in some fashion today.
Nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself. (Little Women)
“A man who has nothing to do with his own time has no conscience in his intrusion on that of others.” (Sense and Sensibility… mansplaining has ALWAYS been a thing)
And then there’s the ferocity and beauty of the moors… from the cliffs of Cornwall all the way to the Scottish highlands, the rainy, rocky natural world is never more exquisite to me than in the British Isles (in movies and photographs, because I’ve never actually been there). Perhaps I’ve grown up with leftover pangs of colonialism, but I simply prefer the windy, gray skies aesthetic of the mossy moors to just about anything.
I love these moors. They’re like survivors of another time. Climb Roughtor before sunrise and listen to the wind crying through the stones and you will feel God. (Jamaica Inn)
(+requisite Poldark pug)
And, I think, here is the zinger. When the topic of my sad stupor is a failed romance–as it is this week–watching purer, nonphysical expressions of passion somehow help to excise those demons (or repress? Who knows). Breaking down romance into such childlike depictions–all awkward gazes and fumbling over words and touching fingers while passing teacups–makes the concepts easier to digest. When people in the real world can spend years and years together and still break up over minute compatibility issues or down-the-road intimacy questions or some fight about hobbies half a decade in…. isn’t it heartwarming to think one can simply choose a candidate for happily ever after with some furtive glances, a few pride and prejudice style misunderstandings, a good deed, and a swoon-y declaration? Sure, it’s hapless fantasy, but that’s leaps and bounds better than my nihilism, knowing from experience that “love” is actually just two people agreeing to hang out together until the day one of them changes their mind. There is no such thing as commitment, because no commitment needs to be final. Some weeks that’s too fucking sad for me to think about, and I suppose I vouch for the quivering teacup pass and wholesome eyebrow flirting of North & South because it ironically feels more truthful than the truth I know.